We’ve all been kettled.
The term, of course, refers to a form of containment used by law enforcement against protestors who are then surrounded by a thick cordon of police, with either one narrow exit or no exit at all as police advances and reduces the space available to those kettled. Once duly kettled, sometimes for hours, protestors can be made to conform much more easily.
Kettling was used at the G8 demonstrations in Genoa, with tragic results. And more recently, it was used against students protesting conservative policies:
“Hundreds of people chanted “let us out” as a line of police officers reduced the size of the Whitehall pen.
Many argued the police were punishing everyone, rather than the handful of troublemakers.
Ben Mann, 24, a London University student, said: “It’s not good. It makes people more angry. I don’t understand how they have the right to hold people in one place.
“It really angered people when they did this at the G20 protests. A policeman just told me this was the end of protests as we know it, which was pretty scary.”
Tom, a 23-year-old Sussex University student who didn’t want to give his surname, said: “They’re trying to deter people from protesting.
“They’re not accusing us of any crimes, so why have they done it? This is preventing us getting our message across.”
Sophie Battams, 17, from Dagenham, Essex, said: “The kettling is causing the violence.
“If you put a lot of angry people in one area, it will escalate to this.”
Rachel Tijani, 18, also from Dagenham, said: “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they coop people up like caged animals, they’ll act like caged animals.
“It was peaceful at first, then it got violent as people wanted to make their point. I just want to go home now.””
As Phile Shiner – a lawyer defending the rights of kettled students, including his daughter – notes, there are several problems with kettling:
- It makes things worse as people get angrier as their space gets reduced. Kettling increases the potential for violence.
- Police now go straight to kettling without trying less repressive measures (that is similar to the recourse to teasering by cops at the first sign of not-quick-enough compliance) but these would involve some cooperation with demonstration organizers.
- Kettling – as most repressive measure – is now first resort.
- The media play a propaganda role by presenting the kettled crowd as composed on violent anarchists.
- Kettling highlights the fact that governments seem to take less seriously the right to not be unlawfully imprisoned, freedom of speech and assembly.
As Shiner notes:
“So next up it will be trade unionists, the unemployed, nurses, teachers and local government workers. Prepare to be kettled, insulted, abused, batoned, arrested on a pretext to justify coercion, intimidated and then subjected to a propaganda attack in the media.”
Well, we are already there.
But as Suzanne Moore notes, there is more than physical kettling, there is mental kettling, being beaten into submission to certain ideas (mostly neoliberalism). She writes, regarding the increasing fees and elimination of financial aid to low-income students in British universities:
“To accept the inevitability of this is one thing, but are we to embrace the complete marketisation of all we hold dear? Are we happy to live with the decimation of arts and social sciences? Do we not see this as straightforward ideological attack? Do we think it is acceptable to make one generation pay for the sins of another?”
I would consider propaganda pieces like Waiting for Superman to be forms of mental kettling.
To me, kettling also involves another trend that is just as disturbing and ties into a lot of things that have been happening recently: the state and its corporate masters and allies have now declared open war on the civil society. Whether you think of the massive amounts of money shoveled at the wealthy after they destroyed the financial system (and the recent US tax cuts bill is only one example), or the rabid reaction to the exposure of state and (to come) corporate behavior exposed by Wikileaks, and the repression against the students demonstration, it is hard to reach a different conclusion. It is now plain for everyone to see.
Oh sure, every once in a while, we will be thrown a few crumbs (like the repeal of Dont Ask, Don’t Tell), but such crumbs will have more a symbolic impact and are non-threatening to the project at hand (the complete takeover by the corporate class and the complete precarization for the rest of us).
And so, having abdicated its social responsibilities, the state now acts as the openly repressive arm of the power elite, as socially devastating austerity (translate: inequality-generating and impoverishing) measures are implemented in most Western countries. The role of the state is now largely two-fold: protect corporate and wealthy interests on the one hand, and crush resistance at home (police) and abroad (military). And the media happily provides the soft power side of this through propaganda (mental kettling).
This is not exactly a new phenomenon, but 2010 is the year the curtain got pulled and we got to see the whole thing, in its full ugliness.